This won the 1921 Pulitzer prize. I read this after reading the 1953 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. Its felt like a good contrast between the ornate writing by Wharton vs the simple language of Hemingway. This book had long sentences and words such as flounces, accretion, capacious, propinquities, philippic etc. With my limited vocabulary, I gave up on the dictionary and decided to guess the meaning of many words by context.
This book had detailed description of the New York upper class of that period. It felt like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877). Wharton is very soft and subtle in her descriptions. She has a satiric view of the people and traditions. It seemed to be full of get-togethers and parties.
There are a lot of characters and families in the book. The main characters are Newland (husband), May (wife) and Ellen Olenska (cousin). The book goes over excesses, scandals and prejudices of that period. Wharton beautifully conveys the emotions in the platonic relationship between Newland and Ellen.
Nobody in the book came across as innocent. Newland himself came across as naive and prone to impulses. He was merely a pawn of the subtle conspiracy in his family. Ellen was misunderstood like Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813). I felt this line from the book describes what the author meant by the title: “…the innocence that seals the mind against imagination and the heart against experience!”